By popular demand (or at least because somebody suggested it), the Thursday Horror Picture Show brings you Peter Jackson’s first feature film, the aptly named Bad Taste (1987). As you might guess, this was made before Jackson became all respectable and worked his way toward make butt-numbing “thrillers” like The Lovely Bones (2009). If you’ve seen Dead Alive (1992), you’ll have an idea of what Bad Taste is like—assuming you bear in mind that this splattery horror/comedy was made on weekends (over a period of several years) for very little money. Paucity of budget, however, cannot hide boundless creativity, true filmmaking style or gobs and gobs of in-your-face homemade gore and grue.
The premise is loopy enough to be engaging and thin enough to allow the film to amiably shamble through it and around it. In essence, an alien food company has taken over a small town as a kind of taste test to set up a line of stomach-churning (from a human standpoint) fast-food products with which they plan to beat their competitors back in their own world. (It appears that extraterrestrial corporations are fully as greedy and unscrupulous as anything on Earth, which is perhaps none too surprising.) Standing between the aliens and the world—or New Zealand anyway—being turned into yummy snacks (from an alien standpoint) is an intrepid, if not overly bright, band of alien specialists more or less headed up by Derek (Jackson himself), who has the significant drawback of spending the bulk of the film in some kind of zombified form with part of his brains constantly falling out of a hole in his head. Sometimes you just have days like that.
Nearly all of this is an excuse for gore and gross-out jokes, along with a barrage of references to other movies—The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a particularly obvious influence—and pop-culture artifacts (just why there’s a van with life-size cut-outs of the Beatles as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band apparently at the wheel, I have no idea). Not surprisingly, the scattershot approach is somewhat hit or miss, but the tone works more often than not. Beyond that, the sheer ambition of the work is quite amazing, as is the degree to which Jackson manages to pull off the effects work. If it rarely rises above the level of a Dr. Who episode, it never drops below that either. That’s pretty impressive for a handmade movie shot on 16mm over a period of four years. Plus, it suits the film and adds to its wonky charm.
Bad Taste will show at 8 p.m., but there’s the usual pre-show lineup starting at 7:40 p.m. with “The Crushing Rock,” chapter ten (the so-called “economy chapter,” meaning that 13 of its 20 minutes are spent recapping chapter nine, followed by flashbacks from earlier chapters) of the barely thrilling 1934 Bela Lugosi serial The Return of Chandu and the Betty Boop cartoon Betty Boop’s Museum (1932), so come early.